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NOLS students hurt while dodging avalanche
Sep 19, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
It took parts of two days to bring them to safety from the Wind River range.
Officials have detailed the harrowing account of two students from the National Outdoor Leadership School who were airlifted from the Wind River Mountains after suffering injuries during a rock fall near the Helen Glacier.
Officials said both men - a 19-year-old from Texas and a 22-year-old from Maryland - had returned to their homes as of Tuesday. They were treated in Jackson for a broken leg and knee damage, respectively.
Bruce Palmer, NOLS director of marketing and admissions, said the group of about 12 students was hiking the glacier last Friday when the students heard "booms" coming from above them.
"It was like the sound of rocks coming down the glacier," Palmer said. "They couldn't see (the boulders), but they wanted to start moving."
He said the students and their instructors ended up running from the area as rocks began to fall nearby.
One of the boulders was as big as a Volkswagen van, Palmer said, but none of the objects struck the NOLS crew. Instead, he said, the two students were injured as they crossed the glacier carrying their large backpacks.
Palmer said the Texan tried to jump across a stream, and when he landed he broke a bone in the lower part of his leg.
His course mates moved him to safety as the rocks continued to fall, Palmer said.
Meanwhile, the man from Maryland had apparently picked up another classmate and was carrying him across the glacier.
"In the process of that, he did some damage to his knee," Palmer said.
NOLS reported the problem to the Fremont County Sheriff's Office at about 8:50 a.m. Friday, but inclement weather made it difficult for rescuers to retrieve the students right away.
"While the weather was clear near the injured men, the conditions elsewhere prohibited the launching of aircraft to the area until mid morning Friday," Undersheriff Ryan Lee said in a press release.
An air ambulance out of Idaho was able to fly to the area at about 11 a.m. Friday.
By 11:30 a.m., the Texan with the ankle injury was in the air and headed for Jackson.
Initial reports state an air crew from Pocatello attempted the flight for the second patient at about 11:40 a.m. but had to turn around due to weather.
Rescuers tried again at about 1 p.m. but turned around by 1:30 p.m., deciding to make another attempt on Saturday.
On Saturday morning the Maryland patient was described as stable but experiencing extreme pain in his knee.
He was picked up by another Idaho air ambulance at about 10:30 a.m. and taken to Jackson for treatment.
Palmer thanked the emergency responders for their help throughout the situation.
"I think everyone involved has been really pleased with the level of cooperation and collaboration that happened her to get these guys out of the field as quickly as we possibly could," Palmer said.
"Obviously NOLS courses involve wilderness travel, and there are objective hazards out there. ... It's one of the inherent risks of traveling in that kind of terrain."
He said the rest of the NOLS group members will continue on their semester-long course.
Palmer noted that all NOLS instructors have been certified as wilderness first responders and are able to take care of their students during emergency situations.